Each week, Land of 10 will check some of the top story lines, matchups and players to watch in The Forecast. Big games, potential upsets, important questions, this is the place for all of that looking ahead to the weekend in the Big Ten.
The B1G One
Iowa at Minnesota
This will probably be an elimination game in the Big Ten West race, unless Wisconsin and Nebraska both lose two conference games.
Iowa has had three bad weeks in a row. Losing to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State was disappointing, but could have been an understandable blip. Surviving against Rutgers by a touchdown was a greater cause for concern. And losing at home to Northwestern was unacceptable for a team that fancied itself a contender in the division after a perfect regular season in 2015.
Even worse, yielding 38 points to a team that couldn’t score a touchdown against an FCS team that is not a powerhouse (Illinois State) is alarming. The Iowa rushing attack has been inconsistent, producing more than 190 yards in three games but less than 80 in two. The Hawkeyes rank 87th in the nation in rushing defense, though slightly better at 66th in yards per rush.
That could be a problem against Minnesota, which is fourth in the conference with nearly 230 yards per game on the ground. The Golden Gophers lost for the first time this past weekend, when Penn State rallied late and then won in overtime.
It feels like the parts are all there for Minnesota to be one of the top teams in the West. There’s an experienced quarterback, a deep and talented collection of running backs and a solid defense, though the secondary had its troubles against the Nittany Lions. Still, Minnesota swarmed running back Saquon Barkley and nearly shut him down … until overtime.
The Gophers were pesky against the Hawkeyes last season in a 40-35 loss. The last trip to the Twin Cities, in 2014, did not go well for Iowa in a 51-14 beatdown.
Minnesota’s next four games are Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue. Get this one, and those two November trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin could become mighty significant.
If Iowa can retain the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, there is still time to salvage a successful season. If the bronze pig doesn’t get back on the plane, the Hawkeyes might be looking at a fight for bowl eligibility.
BYU (+6) at Michigan State
Scoring 36 points on Notre Dame seems like a long time ago for Michigan State, and doesn’t look nearly as impressive with more context as the season progresses. It’s three more than Syracuse scored and two less than Duke.
Take away about a 22-minute flurry against the Fighting Irish, and this season would be a disaster for the Spartans. Prior to the Wisconsin debacle, Michigan State hadn’t lost a conference game by 24 or more points since 2010. And the Spartans hadn’t lost to Indiana since 2006.
The loss to the Hoosiers was jarring. Since 2010, the Spartans were 25-1 against conference foes not named Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska. They just don’t dump games to teams below them on the food chain with Mark Dantonio in charge.
Maybe Indiana isn’t below them in 2016. BYU has played two teams that were ranked, Utah and West Virginia, and lost by a total of four points. The Cougars lost to UCLA by three. They could still be a very solid team, and that might be enough if the Spartans don’t start trending upward.
Make or Break
Maryland at Penn State
James Franklin’s team might have to apply for a residency and start paying local taxes in this spot.
Penn State trailed by 10 points at halftime, blew a lead late because of a costly penalty and pieced together an improbable last-second scoring drive to force overtime to survive against Minnesota.
Now the Nittany Lions have another regional rival on deck. Franklin is 0-7 against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, which is understandable given the strength of those three programs. Being 1-2 against Pitt and Maryland isn’t great, and dropping to 1-3 would not be a good look. He’d have more losses in three years against the Terps than the program had in 37 prior meetings.
The Terps aren’t as good as some of Ralph Friedgen’s best outfits in the early 2000s, but they might be better than most of Randy Edsall’s teams. They can run the ball and defend the pass. If they can do both against Penn State while keeping Barkley from running wild, the Terps might just end up in the AP Top 25 poll on Sunday, with a 5-0 record for the first time since 2001. That was Friedgen’s first team at Maryland, and it turned out pretty well.
Best Individual Matchup
Indiana QB Richard Lagow vs. Pestilence, War, Famine and Death
OK, maybe it is a little early to suggest that Ohio State’s secondary is college football’s modern, defensive incarnation of the Four Horsemen. But the Buckeyes have been extraordinary. Teams have completed 45 percent of their passes with two touchdowns and nine interceptions in four games.
Ohio State’s secondary has scored four touchdowns on interception returns. Opponents have scored two touchdowns on the Buckeyes’ defense.
Indiana’s Richard Lagow is averaging 50 passing yards per game more than any other quarterback in the league, with 319.5 per contest. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has completed at least 70 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in games that weren’t against Ohio State this season. He was 17 of 32 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and two picks against the Buckeyes.
It might feel like Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden are across the line of scrimmage for Lagow.
Next Man Up
Juwann Bushell-Beatty, LT, Michigan
The Wolverines have piled up the points on offense, but a serious knee injury to starting left tackle Grant Newsome was far more of a concern than only scoring 14 points against a stout Wisconsin defense this past weekend. Juwann Bushell-Beatty could make his first start Saturday not far from home at Rutgers. He’s one of nine players from the Garden State on Michigan’s roster.
The Scarlet Knights are at a distinct disadvantage at almost every position against the Wolverines, but Rutgers does have a solid defensive line. It will test Michigan’s offensive line, particularly in the running game.
Will Saquon Barkley find some room to roam?
Barkley leads the conference in rushing touchdowns, but four of the seven came in one game. He had 105 yards in Week 1 against Kent State, but less than 70 in each of the past three contests.
Teams are obviously focusing on slowing him down, and quarterback Trace McSorley and the receiving corps has benefitted from all of that extra attention paid to him. Minnesota really had Barkley bottled up during the second half, but then he found one hole, and two moves later he was in the end zone with a 25-yard walk-off in overtime.
The Nittany Lions need to help Barkley find more space, and they need him to be an impact player in areas besides blocking on passing downs.
Will there be a Markell Jones vs. Ke’Shawn Vaughn showdown in Champaign?
Illinois’ Markell Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn were the two most productive freshman running backs in the Big Ten last season not named Barkley. Both had more than 700 rushing yards. This season hasn’t gone as planned for either yet.
Jones has had two strong games against lesser competition and a total of 70 yards on 27 carries in losses to Cincinnati and Maryland. Vaughn was expected to take over the lead role for the departed Josh Ferguson, but he hasn’t impressed the new coaching staff.
Vaughn did have 116 yards on 15 carries against North Carolina, but he has nine attempts in the past two weeks and saw the ball only once this past weekend. He’s no longer listed as the starter on the depth chart and coach Lovie Smith gave reporters the “we’ll play the guy who gives us the best chance to win” line.
Where is the hottest ticket in the league this weekend?
It’s in Piscataway, N.J., baby. Michigan’s trip to High Point Solutions Stadium for a night game at Rutgers should be an exciting atmosphere for as long as the Scarlet Knights can keep it competitive.
The cheapest ticket on Vivid Seats as of Thursday night for this game was $69, slightly more than Ohio State’s home game against Indiana and a nice nod to a rebuilding program with first-year coach Chris Ash. It’s not just all of those Michigan players from New Jersey scooping up tickets for all of their friends and families, either.